Page 273 - Week 01 - Thursday, 17 February 2011

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Recommendations 30 and 31 deal with quite a contentious area. The committee recommends that the act be changed so that the Auditor-General has the authority to access documents of a recipient of public moneys and audit a recipient’s organisation for the services it provides. It has to be taken in the context of recommendation 31, where the committee recommends that any other legislation needs to be changed as necessary so that these funds can be looked at. It applies only to those activities funded by the ACT government.

Through grants and through their spending, governments give a lot of money to organisations to do things on their behalf. Currently it is acquitted by relatively simply statements such as: “We got this much money. We spent that much money. Job done.” Recently PAC had a case where there was a complaint that, although the money may or may not have been acquitted, it had not necessarily been spent on what it was given for, and that is what we are saying here. When taxpayers’ funds are given over to non-government organisations, it is very important that we know they are acquitted, that the money is spent on what it was dedicated to, that we get value for money and that the services are delivered. I suspect those two recommendations will have a lot of people concerned. They should not be. If they are doing the right thing, they should be able to acquit what they are spending public funds on without any difficulty at all.

Recommendation 36 looks at the ability of the Auditor-General to disclose information to the Assembly, the police or other agencies—for instance, ASIC—and to assist courts with the investigation and process of offences. Should the auditor come across these offences, we think it should be quite clear in the act that the auditor has the authority to give information that has been discovered that might be criminal or a breach of the law in some manner. That information should be available. It is very important that people understand that their funds are being spent in accordance with the law.

Recommendation 41 is another interesting recommendation—that the auditor be allowed to conduct joint investigations and/or performance audits with other statutory office holders tasked with oversighting institutional integrity within government. Sometimes what the auditor will look at overlaps the bailiwick of other statutory offices. For instance, the Commissioner for the Environment might have an interest in a particular program or an organisation. The auditor might come to the conclusion that the Audit Office has a similar interest. So, without stepping on each other’s toes but working in concert, it would allow greater efficiency and greater use of the expertise that exists in some of the statutory offices and allow us, as an Assembly, to be better informed. It would also ensure that the people of the ACT understand that we take a great deal of interest in how the funds that are invested in the executive are spent on their behalf.

This is a very good report. Notwithstanding some of the comments made by Mr Hargreaves, we worked to ensure that as far as possible there would not be a dissenting report and that we could accommodate members’ needs without watering down what it is that we sought to achieve. The Audit Office is important. This is the first review since the act was put in place in 1996. We saw just last year the irregular auditing of the Audit Office, which gave the auditor a very good bill of health, but it

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